The growing diversity in public schools requires science educators to address the specific needs of English language learners (ELLs), students who speak a language other than English at home. Although ELLs are the fastest-growing demographic group in classrooms, many are historically underserved in mainstream science classrooms, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups. The significant increase of ELLs at public schools poses a challenge to science teachers in linguistically diverse classrooms as they try to support and engage all students in learning science. The proposed project will respond to this urgent need by investigating the potential benefits of interactive, dynamic visualization technologies, including simulations, animations, and visual models, in supporting science learning for all middle school students, including ELLs. This project will also identify design principles for developing such technology, develop additional ways to support student learning, and provide new guidelines for effective science teachers’ professional development that can assist them to better serve students from diverse language backgrounds. The project has the potential to transform traditional science instruction for all students, including underserved ELLs, and to broaden their participation in science.
In collaboration with eighth grade science teachers from two low-income middle schools in North Carolina, the project will focus on three objectives: (1) develop, test, and refine four open-source, web-based inquiry units featuring dynamic visualizations on energy and matter concepts in physical and life sciences, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS); (2) investigate how dynamic visualizations can engage eighth-grade ELLs and native-English-speaking students in science practices and improve their understanding of energy and matter concepts; and (3) investigate which scaffolding approaches can help maximize ELLs’ learning with visualizations. Research questions include: (1) Which kinds of dynamic visualizations (simulations, animations, visual models) lead to the best learning outcomes for all students within the four instructional science units?; (2) Do ELLs benefit more from visualizations (or particular kinds of visualizations) than do native-English-speaking students?; and (3) What kinds of additional scaffolding activities (e.g., critiquing arguments vs. generating arguments) are needed by ELLs in order to achieve the greatest benefit? The project will use design-based research and mixed-methods approaches to accomplish its research objectives and address these questions. Furthermore, it will help science teachers develop effective strategies to support students’ learning with visualizations. Products from this project, including four NGSS-aligned web-based inquiry units, the visualizations created for the project, professional development materials, and scaffolding approaches for teachers to use with ELLs, will be freely available through a project website and multiple professional development networks. The PI will collaborate with an advisory board of experts to develop the four instructional units, visualizations, and scaffolds, as well as with the participating teachers to refine these materials in an iterative fashion. Evaluation of the materials and workshops will be provided each year by the advisory board members, and their feedback will be used to improve design and implementation for the next year. The advisory board will also provide summative evaluation of student learning outcomes and will assess the success of the teachers’ professional development workshops.